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Inside the Red Mansion : On the Trail of Chinas Most Wanted Man
The notorious gangster Lai Changxing started out as an illiterate farmer, but in the tumult of China's burgeoning economy, he seized the opportunity to remake himself as a bandit king. A newly minted billionaire of outsized personality and even greater appetites, he was a living legend who eventually ran afoul of authorities. The journalist Oliver August set out to find the fugitive Lai. On his quest he encountered a highly entertaining series of criminals and oddball entrepreneurs-and acquired unique insight into the paradoxes of modern China. Part crime caper, part travelogue, part trenchant cultural analysis, August's page-turning account captures China's giddy vibe and its darker vulnerabilities.
August, former Beijing bureau chief for the London Times, crafts a harrowing, super-detailed story of a China exploding with runaway growth yet still trapped in the past and ruled by the ethos of tufei-the classical Mandarin word for bandit. By turns delightfully surprising and slap-across-the-face sobering, August's yarn centers on his quest to find Lai Changxing, a country boy turned self-made billionaire, thug and China's most wanted man. August takes him from a private club (where "[f]locks of sequined mermaids waltzed past in merry circles, followed by operatic massifs of rouged Red Guards goose-stepping to `The Sound of Music' ") and Xiamen, an out-of-control coastal boomtown (with "[a] furious sea of cement and marble, wave upon wave of high-rises rippling out, strips of tarmac submerged at bottomless depths") to a drab government building in Vancouver, B.C., where Lai was being held on immigration charges. August finally sees Lai not as a freewheeling gangster but as a man diminished-"Nothing about his physical bearing suggested the lyrical countenance of a tragic hero or a human devil..." This must-read, can't-put-it down tale shows the China only hinted at on the evening news-a place of outsized egos, over-the-top commercial development and shadowy, tradition-bound authoritarian rule. (July 18) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
June 12, 2008
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